Williamson, Inc. hosted its second 2022 Policy Discussions at Columbia State Community College Williamson Campus on Friday morning.
The panel included members of the Tennessee State Legislature.
State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson and State Reps. Glen Casada, Sam Whitson and Todd Warner discussed the recently unveiled “student-based funding formula” plan. Governor Bill Lee seeking to overhaul public school funding in Tennessee and the controversy surrounding charter schools.
The plan would allocate a base amount of funding of $6,860 per student, however, if a student was, for example, economically disadvantaged and had special learning needs, additional funding would be used for the student’s education. .
Proponents of the plan say districts would receive more funding under the new formula than they would under the BEP formula assuming stable enrollment. In addition, schools with 2% growth each year for three consecutive years would receive an infrastructure allocation from the state, and schools with current year growth greater than 2% over the year previous year would receive funding in the same year from the state for additional students.
“There is money in [the plan] for schools and systems like Williamson County both because of growth, because of our high performance, and because of our children who have special educational needs,” Casada said. “So this new formula that the governor has come up with is going to be very good for Williamson County.”
The plan also demands increases in in-state education funding from state and local governments and, according to Whitson, also aims to trigger an increase in teacher salaries. There’s $125 million set aside in the plan for public school teacher pay increases in fiscal year 2023.
“Under the old system, … pay rises were awarded based on the number of teachers authorized by the BEP,” Whitson said. ” Let’s go. This will be the number of teachers employed to teach in a school district.
Johnson explained the differences between the student-based formula and the BEP formula.
“Currently, within the framework of the current [BEP] formula, we fund processes, we fund bureaucracies, we don’t fund children,” he said. “Governor Lee says we need a student-centered funding system, and as proposed, you would be able to take a child out of Pickett County, take a child out of Davidson County…and know exactly how much money is allocated to this child based on their personal circumstances. »
Charter schools would be considered public schools under the new plan.
According to Merriam-Webster, a charter school is “a tax-supported school established by charter between a granting agency (such as a school board) and an outside group (such as teachers and parents) that administers the school. school without most local authorities and state educational regulations in order to achieve set goals.
Charter school students would receive a 4% increase in their base funding as a result of the plan.
“People’s heads start to explode sometimes when you’re talking about charters,” Johnson said. “We don’t have for-profit charters in Tennessee. They are not permitted by law. We have charters that operate in the state of Tennessee, but they are non-profit organizations. These are non-profit organizations that are generally funded by people who care passionately about education, and they identify and recognize areas like Shelby County, like Davidson County, where the school system is failing those children. And they’re going there with private funds that they’ve raised, and they’re going there and they’re setting up a charter school that can operate differently from your traditional public school and meet the needs of these kids.
Some community members are concerned about the focus on charter schools in the plan, particularly regarding the governor’s partnership with Hillsdale College, a private Christian college in Michigan.
When first asked about Hillsdale College, Johnson declined to speak. Johnson later claimed that “the governor has proposed a partnership with Hillsdale for civics in higher education. Higher education at the college level. And it has the support of our higher education. It is not mandatory. »
Earlier this month, at a press conference on February 4, Lee said, “We welcome charter operators, non-profit charter operators from across the country to improve the public school system in our state, and that includes classical education charter schools like Hillsdale.”